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Afghan Struggle Could Last for Years: Has West the Will to Fight?
The British troops sent to Afghanistan recently have got off to a dangerous and difficult start. More troops are being rushed out to support them. The question of what to do about Afghanistan, and its30 million people, is whizzing up the agenda.
Last January John Reid, then British secretary of State for defense, announced that the small British military presence in Afghanistan was to be expanded to some5 , 000soldiers, most of whom would be based in Helmand province. Their main role would be to support reconstruction efforts. Unfortunately John Reid then added, far too optimistically, that he would be happy for them to complete their mission “without a shot being fired”.
There were those in Parliament and beyond who suggested such a force would be too small for the allotted task, at a time when the dreaded and medieval Taleban was clearly on its way back. The Ministry of Defense must have, in private, shared such doubts for it was soon made known that an RAF Harrier squadron in Afghanistan would not now be withdrawn.
Spearheading the expanded British contingent was the3 rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, a touch and battle-hardened unit. Within a few days the unit’s bases were coming under daily attack. In just three weeks six British soldiers have been killed in Helmand province, which is four times the size of Wales and the main opium poppy-growing part of the country. One of them was Lance Cpl. Jabron Hashmi, a Muslim, whose funeral took place in Birmingham on July 8 in the presence of the Muslim chaplain for the Armed Forces.
The Ministry of Defense described the fierce opposition as “unexpected” — ignoring those experts who had predicted it — and Des Browne, the new and unimpressive secretary of state for defense, conceded that the arrival of the British troops had “energized the Taleban”. He told the House of Commons, by now alarmed at the situation, on the July10 , that 900more troops would be sent out. These reinforcements would include one company from the Royal Marine’s 3 Commando Brigade. Troops in Helmand province are seriously short of lift helicopters, like the British Army as a whole, but it is hoped more will be found for Afghanistan.